A Filmmaker on the Edge, Part Two


Part Two of the interview with Soraya Umewaka is here.
I am Happy premieres next Wednesday at the NY Latino Film Festival in New York City.

How important is it to you that you are a woman filmmaker? Do you feel that you have a unique experience as a woman working in this business?

I feel that my presence is not an intimidating one. I go about often feeling inconspicuous and unnoticed when I film. Perhaps it has more to do with my personality than my gender but I like to keep a low profile when I film and make people feel comfortable with me when they are sharing their personal stories or insights.

How do you connect to your human subjects and persuade them to let you in so intimately into their lives?

I always establish a friendship with the individuals I film, gain their trust, spend time with them getting to know them and only afterward do I film. I have been incredibly fortunate to come across incredible individuals who have opened up to me and let me into their lives. I think being genuinely curious about their lives and wanting to understand and share their life stories and insights with others has helped build the foundation of that friendship.

Do you work by yourself? What kind of equipment do you use? When you are in dangerous places like some favelas, how do you protect yourself, your equipment and your subjects?

At times I filmed with a photographer, but I generally film alone (without a sound recordist, light technician etc). Having said that, I always film with someone from the community. By filming with someone from the community, I gain a better understanding of what I need to pay attention to and that person often helps me stay safe and alert to certain dangers and risks. In Brazil and Ecuador I used a small digital video camera Sony VX2100, which I could easily fit into my rugged backpack so that people would not notice that I am carrying around a video camera. When I filmed in the favelas of Rio, I always filmed with someone who is respected in that community. As long as I was filming with someone from the community, I felt safer filming in the favelas than in the city of Rio, as no one steals from one another in the slums of Rio, as the judicial law that resides there are different than that of the law in the city. (No one steals from one another in the slums of Rio, as one would get executed by the drug traffickers if one did).

How do you feel about injecting yourself into your films? Do you prefer that your voice not be heard, or do you like to tell your stories from a first-person viewpoint?

At first I disliked hearing my own voice when I was editing the documentary, however, I realized that since I was filming my friends, often having a conversation with them, it sometimes became inevitable to have these individuals talk to me, as opposed to talk into the camera. I also noticed that with my Brazilian film ‘I am Happy’, although I wanted to remain behind the camera, this documentary revolves around the close friendships that I share with these individuals.

How hard is it to get your films shown? Is it a constant process of entering film festivals and promoting your work? Is it equally difficult to find backers or financiers?

It is hard to get my documentaries shown, as it is becoming increasingly competitive to get into film festivals (especially without a sales agent, a production and distribution company), and as you said, it’s a constant process of entering my film to film festivals, and promoting my work. I am delighted that my documentary will be premiered in New York (NY Int. Latino Film Festival), Rio (Rio Int. Film Festival) and Tokyo (Brazil Film Festival). I especially look forward to the Rio Int. Film Festival where the individuals in my film will be able to see themselves on a large screen.

With regards to financing my films, as a student, I used to receive funding/grants from Princeton, however, now that I have graduated, I often cover the expenses of my documentaries from directing or producing other documentaries and programs with different production companies and television agencies. Recently I started to contact the corporate social responsibility sectors of companies for sponsorship and received some positive response from Japanese companies (such as Mitsui and Suntory Wellness). In partnership with an NPO (World Children’s Fund), I have the profits from the documentary go to the community such as educational scholarships for youths and women in the slums of Rio. It is very important for me to not only share my films with others but to also make sure that the profit goes back to the community so that it makes a positive difference to individuals in the documentary.

What’s next? Any plans to do a film in your native Japan or are you still exploring other parts of the world?

I have filmed a documentary on identity through the portraits of individuals in Kathmandu, and Bhutanese refugees in the South East of Nepal. I will start editing that film shortly. I am also filming a documentary in Tokyo about what it means to take a break from the perspective of different individuals in the city (such as an artist, a fireman, a Noh actor, a young child who goes to cram school). I would also like to film the daily lives of civilians in Beirut, Lebanon to explore the resilience of different individuals who live in a post-war nation and the creative culture that thrives there.

Contact Soraya at streetwitness@gmail.com.

NY Int. Latino Film Festival World Premiere
July 29th Wednesday 3:30pm at Clearview Cinemas
July 31st Friday 4:00 pm at Clearview Cinemas
(260 West 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues)


Last photo by Tomas Reyes


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